Bella held a pair of sandals in one hand as she walked along the coast, eyes unfocused, thoughts tumbling.
Edward promised, was oft repeated. She sounded petulant even in her own head, because she was. Because he had. He’d promised to make love to her after the wedding. Then the night they tried, he squeezed her arm just hard enough that she winced, and he leapt away and refused to touch her again no matter how much she begged.
And she begged. A lot.
That morning after picking over a breakfast of French toast, she’d insisted on taking a nap by herself, and once alone slipped out of the bedroom window. She wanted space to think, and she wanted Edward to worry.
Under the afternoon sun, her cheeks flushed an uncomfortable red. Her neck was sticky from sweat and the skin on her shoulders felt taut from the approaching sunburn. To escape the heat, and the bitter disappointment churning inside her, Bella dropped her shoes, stripped off her white cotton dress, and strode into the surf in her underwear.
The water swept deliciously cool over her feet. She submerged her calves, then her knees, then her thighs. She smelled salt, fresh in the island air, and watched a flock of seagulls swoop over the ocean, distantly where they seemed little more than blurry white figments against the sky.
She sank deeper into the waves until it lapped at her chin and then leaned back so she was floating, arms outstretched, face tilted to the sunlight which was now tempered by the cool waters. The weightlessness of floating eased the knot of resentment in her stomach. She skimmed her hands along the surface and thought about how to win Edward over to her side.
One inhale, Bella was floating. The next, she was moving, dragged swiftly away from the shore. She tried to plant her feet but her toes slipped uselessly over the sandy bottom. Panic swelled, and her head went under, and back up and under, and soon all she knew was salt in her mouth and a burning in her eyes and lungs.
There was a plume of light through the murky depths and she surged toward it.
The water’s embrace kept her beneath its surface.
I love you.
The burning took over, pain and fear, and the certainty of death, not for the first time but for what was surely the last.
She’d known pain under the water, and from the venom of James, and skidding across the asphalt after crashing her motorcycle.
None of it touched this pain.
She screamed, because she could. She contorted her body, flailed her limbs, shook her head, trying desperately to find a posture to lessen her suffering.
Nothing worked. There was pain, and more of it, and more.
Was it hours, weeks, months that she burned?
Then, all at once, nothing.
Not the nothingness of succumbing to the ocean. This nothing was sharp, cold. It spread ice from her lungs outward until the tips of her fingers were numb, which was a relief after all the pain. A warmth followed the chill, a pleasant one, like sitting at a campfire. Such frivolities felt so far away now.
She realized she could open her eyes and did. Edward’s face bent close to hers, amber eyes urgent as they flickered over every inch of her.
“Bella?” he whispered.
She lifted a hand to his face and, for the first time, his cheek was alive to her touch, pleasant, and when she replaced her fingers with her lips they felt the same delicious heat and responsiveness. She slid her mouth over to his greedily.
“Bella,” he said again, into her lips, and snaked his arms between her body and the bed she rested on, drawing her close. “You returned to me.”
“Of course I did.” She broke off the kiss reluctantly, gaze fixed to the full and bloodless lips that still called to her. “How did I, exactly?”
Edward’s voice trembled as he explained. “I noticed you were out of the house so I followed your footsteps in the sand and into the water. I almost couldn’t find you. I spent far too long swimming, searching for you. Through sheer luck, I bumped into you and brought you ashore. I performed CPR and your heart restarted but then it stopped again. I didn’t know how long you’d been under or if I could keep getting your pulse back. So the next time it began to beat, I turned you.” His hands went to her hair and stroked the fine brown strands there. “We brought you home on a medical flight.”
“I’m sorry!” Bella reached up and pressed her hand over his. “I never meant for this to happen. Not like that, at least.”
“I know.” Edward pulled her hand over to his mouth and kissed it. “But it did, and you’re here, and I’m so thankful.” He smiled, a forced smile that was a transparent attempt to hide how he’d suffered. “Leave it to you to drown yourself to become a vampire.”
“That wasn’t my plan!” Bella tried to act natural too, but she didn’t really have the heart to be indignant. The pain was too recent and vivid.
The door opened and Carlisle stepped through, followed closely by Esme. They wore matching smiles as they approached the bed.
“We’re so pleased to have you as one of us now,” Esme said.
Carlisle moved to examine her. “The Transformation was textbook.” He looked at Edward. “You could take her hunting now. Blood will serve her well.”
Edward nodded and helped Bella out of the bed. His assistance was unnecessary. She felt more sure of foot than she ever had before. The world existed in crisp clarity before her. She could feel each tuft in the carpet beneath her bare feet, spot each thin crack in the leather books on a nearby shelf, and hear the orchestrated exhales of her vampire family from across the house.
She let her hand fall from his as they went to Edward’s room. Her things were there and she dressed in a comfortable pair of joggers and a lightweight t-shirt.
“None of Alice’s dresses?” Edward asked, teasing.
“Sure, if you want a mountain lion to snag me by the flowing skirt.”
“So what if one did?” Edward thumbed her jaw, pulled her in for a brief kiss. “It would be no match for you now.”
She imagined herself grabbing a mountain lion by the head, crushing it against the ground, and draining its twitching body. The possibility sent a pulse of unpleasantness through her - not at killing a creature, like human Bella Swan would have wrung her hands over, but at drinking animal blood. The thought made her stomach twist and her mouth dry up. It would be like drinking dirt, she was sure of it, and within herself she instinctually cried out for something else, that which she knew would be warm and rich.
They moved through the woods. Bella would almost believe that she had died at the island and her memories were merely transferred to this body. The world seemed an entirely new place with her enhanced senses and the freshly born beast inside her that screamed for blood.
The smell of mountain lion hit Edward and Bella at the same time. He smiled; she wrinkled her nose. “It tastes better than it smells,” he said to her clear distaste. “Come on, Bella. Lead the way.”
She went still, leaned into the beast’s instincts, and felt her body move of its own accord. She raced swiftly and soundlessly toward the call of the heartbeat, though it held weak appeal. She knew Edward trailed behind her. She could practically taste his pleasure over their hunting together as they loped into a clearing.
Then the wind shifted.
The scent that curled through her nostrils was nothing like the bitter feline. It sent a spike of warmth through her, of desire, of absolute need. Even though she could have held her breath, like she’d seen the Cullens do so many times, Bella instead drew in deeper inhales, desperately trying to absorb as much of the tantalizing call as she could. Any thought of civility slipped out of her mind. In its place was left one looping echo: drink.
On featherlight feet, Bella darted out of the clearing. She felt Edward’s hand close on her shoulder but easily pulled free. Later, she would be impressed with herself, remembering when his softest touch to her hand threatened to grind the tiny bones to dust.
She wasn’t impressed as she flew past trees and over unbroken twigs. She was single-mindedly focused on the two thumping heartbeats, circulating the blood that would soon quench her thirst.
Bella paused when she reached an overhang that looked down on a pair of hikers. A man crouched in the dirt rifling through a lime-green pack while a woman perched on a mossy rock, massaging her bare feet next to a pair of boots with socks tucked into them.
“Bella.” Edward said her name like a caress as he came to stand behind her and his hands closed vice-like on her upper arms. She didn’t flinch; she’d heard his approach. “It’s time to go home now. You don’t want to kill those people. Imagine if it was Charlie, or your mother. They have families, jobs, hopes, dreams.” He pressed a kiss to her shoulder.
The coaxing words slipped by her like water through a strainer. With one neat movement, she wrenched herself out of his hold, and dropped noiselessly down to the hikers.
The woman noticed first. Her hands stilled and a hesitant smile crossed her face as she cleared her throat. The man looked up at the same moment Bella leapt on him and tore his throat open in one clean slice of fingernail against skin.
Edward was beside her by the time she sank her teeth into the screaming woman. The woman’s blows landed on her head and back, feeble, ineffective. She felt them, and Edward’s stare, and then she surrendered to the pleasure of the blood in her mouth and felt nothing else.
It flowed hot and sweet and satisfying, better than any human food, better than Edward’s body against hers. It was a divine experience; she worshipped at the altar of the woman’s neck.
She drained them both and then stared at the blood that had sprayed from the man into the dirt and mourned the waste. She’d have to learn to be efficient.
“Let’s get home,” Edward said quietly and put out his hand. Bella thought of arguing. Her thirst was surprisingly far from slaked, and the idea of prowling the woods for more unsuspecting hikers held a dazzling appeal. But the devastation on his face made her take his hand, and sprint beside him back to the waiting Cullens.
Emmett and Jasper met them at the door, faces lined with tension. Clearly Alice saw what she’d done.
“Where?” was all Jasper asked. After Edward’s brief directions to the drained bodies, they took off, blurs that quickly faded into the woods even as Bella could still hear their footsteps against the ground.
“I’m so sorry,” Edward murmured into her ear as he led her to where the rest of the family sat, artificially posed on furniture when none of them ever needed to sit, as Bella was now discovering. She abhorred the thought of a cushion holding her in place. She ached to be hunting again, running, sinking her fangs into soft flesh.
“Bella!” Alice leapt across the room and took hold of both of her hands. She looked anguished. “Stop planning those things! You need to fight it!”
“I know it’s tempting,” Carlisle added gently. “It’s not your fault. But you must turn your thoughts away from it.”
“I’ll be more careful next time,” said Edward to the family at large.
With five sets of disappointed eyes on her, Bella didn’t argue. “I’m going to shower,” she said and trotted up the stairs, leaving all those eyes to turn to each other in concern.
In the bathroom, Bella peeled off her clothes and dropped the soiled bundle into the laundry basket. Then she turned and looked at her naked reflection. The skin that had been covered was strikingly pale and beautiful - and clean. Her arms, neck, and face more closely matched the discarded clothing. Blood splattered a stark contrast, completely coating the lower half of her face. Her eyes reflected cruelty in shades of red.
For the first time, her slayed humanity lifted its head. Horror flickered through her for a moment, and regret. As quickly as the emotions burst forth, she stuffed them away. She wasn’t human anymore. She was beautiful, strong, and she wanted blood. She should have it.